Roundup Ready Alfalfa On The Way
DAVE WILKINS / Capital Press Agriculture Weekly 11feb2005
TWIN FALLS, Idaho — First it was soybeans. Then came cotton, corn and canola. Now Monsanto Co. is preparing to release its latest Roundup Ready crop: alfalfa.
Roundup Ready alfalfa hasn’t received U.S. regulatory approval yet, but it could get the green light soon, Monsanto and Forage Genetics Inc. officials told Idaho hay growers this week.
“We’re hoping to have the first varieties out this year,” said Peter Reisen, a plant breeder with Forage Genetics Inc., the research company that assisted Monsanto in developing its Roundup Ready alfalfa varieties.
The new varieties will have built-in tolerance to Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide.
Roundup Ready technology was first introduced by Monsanto in 1996 with soybeans. It’s now also widely used in cotton, corn and canola.
In a presentation to the Idaho Alfalfa and Forage Conference, Reisen showed slides of field trials in which Roundup Ready alfalfa compared favorably with conventional alfalfa treated with other herbicides.
Demonstration plots for Roundup Ready alfalfa have been conducted in several locations across the country, including Idaho, Wisconsin and Minnesota.
“I think we’re getting very good weed control compared to what we have out there now,” Monsanto weed scientist Jeffrey Herrmann told Idaho producers.
“Basically, we’re getting weed-free hay from establishment of the stand all through the life of the stand,” Herrmann said.
Alfalfa would be the first perennial crop in the Roundup Ready lineup.
How the new crop will be received by farmers is the big question.
Some Idaho hay growers said they are concerned about the cost. Producers will be required to pay technology fees on top of the cost of the proprietary seed.
Then there’s the cost of the Roundup herbicide itself.
“It gets to be pretty pricey,” said Don Hale, a hay grower from Blackfoot, Idaho. “Right now, I don’t think it’s economical.”
Michael Larson, a hay grower from Buhl, Idaho, said he has no plans to jump on the new technology, mainly because of the costs involved.
“My biggest concern as a grower is the cost of spraying,” he said.
Larson figures he can continue to grow conventional alfalfa varieties and pay a fraction of the weed-control costs that he would with Roundup Ready seed.
Several Roundup applications would be required over the course of a growing season.
Larson said Roundup wouldn’t have the same long-lasting residual effects as some of the herbicides he is already using.
Cost isn’t the only issue.
Concerns have also been raised about the possible buildup of Roundup-resistant weeds and cross-pollination problems.
Because alfalfa is pollinated with bees, some seed growers are concerned about the potential for Roundup Ready alfalfa to be cross-pollinated with conventional varieties.
Some growers are also worried that the commercial release of Roundup Ready alfalfa could jeopardize U.S. hay exports to countries such as Japan and Taiwan.
Dave Wilkins is based in Twin Falls, Idaho. His e-mail address is email@example.com.